Heather’s Favorites of 2019

2020/01/03 20:01:02 +00:00 | Heather Wixson

2019 was truly a gift for horror fans, as we were inundated with tons of amazing content, both on the big and on the small screen as well. In fact, it was hard to keep up with everything, which is why I’m bummed I still haven’t had a chance to catch up with several films that most likely would have ended up on this list (One Cut of the Dead, Knife + Heart, Haunt, Harpoon, and Hagazussa—I’m looking in your general direction). That being said, after taking in more than 300 movies (both horror and non-genre included) and several television series to boot, here’s my rundown of my favorite genre entertainment from 2019:

Please keep in mind that I only include films that have received an official release during 2019, so films like VFW, First Love, Something Else/After Midnight, Come to Daddy, The Vast of Night, and Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street will most likely have to hang in there until next year.

Enjoy!

Crawl: 2019 was a year chock-full of surprises, and one of the biggest for me was Alexandre Aja’s Crawl. Not that I didn’t think Aja had it in him to deliver up a tension-filled horror flick, because he’s obviously demonstrated his filmmaking talents over the years, I just had no idea how entertaining, how thrilling, and how damn satisfying Crawl would end up being on both a visceral and an emotional level. Oh, and the film also has two jump scares that will eventually go down in horror history as all-timers to boot.

Both Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper are astonishingly great in Crawl, too, giving us characters we want to root for, and Sugar the Dog just totally ran away with my heart. Simply put, Crawl was easily my favorite moviegoing experience of the entire summer and I hope we get to see more from Aja on the big screen after the success of his latest endeavor.

Ready or Not: 2019 was a great year for movies where we got to see the “have-nots” kick the asses of the “haves,” which is only part of the reason I absolutely adored Ready or Not from directing duo Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin. A scathing pitch-black comedy that pits an unwitting bride (Samara Weaving, who kicks so much ass here) against her in-laws on her wedding night, Ready or Not could have easily ventured into nihilistic territory, but instead, writers Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy keep things playful (well, as playful as you can get when it comes to hunting another human being for sport), making for one wickedly fun game where in the end, the audience ends up being the big winners.

As mentioned, Weaving is fantastic, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Adam Brody, who is so damn great in Ready or Not as well. And the only thing better than seeing Ready or Not the first time is the second time you watch it, as there were so many little nuggets of fun in there that just whizzed right by me that first viewing.

Us: I really enjoyed Jordan Peele’s Us the first time I saw it, despite its messy and ambitious narrative that completely goes into some wildly unpredictable places. But it wasn’t until my third viewing at home where certain aspects of Peele’s narrative really clicked with me, and I feel like that was Peele’s design all along—to give audiences who rewatched Us storytelling layers that you could continue to pull back and reveal new things with each new viewing. Also, I must say that it’s been great to see Lupita Nyong'o receiving tons of accolades from various critics' organizations lately, but I do hope her fellow cast members continue to receive some love, too, because their dual performances are just as exemplary as Nyong'o’s and deserve some love as well.

Child’s Play (2019): If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that the Child’s Play remake would end up being one of my favorite genre flicks of 2019, I would have asked you to share whatever exactly it was that you were smoking, because I would have thought you were completely out of your mind. But here we are. Look, I love the original Child’s Play series (hell, I’m one of the few that will willingly die on the Seed of Chucky hill), and considering its storylines were still ongoing, I couldn’t imagine a new Child’s Play being anything more than just a studio cashing in on a popular title. And sure, that was probably part of the reason we have a new Child’s Play.

But somehow, director Lars Klevberg and writer Tyler Burton Smith sidestepped the usual pratfalls that many remakes fall victim to, and they came up with something that celebrates the essence of why we love the Child’s Play films, but also definitively set out to do something very different. And it works like gangbusters. Chucky’s new backstory works well in a contemporary setting, and the remake also features one of my favorite sequences of the entire year, which involves a gift-wrapped severed head. Oh, and I must tip my hat to Mark Hamill for doing a brilliant job with his vocal talent in the new Child’s Play as well (oh, and good luck getting that “Buddi Song” earworm out of your head, too!).

What We Do in the Shadows (The Series): Anyone who knows me knows that my affection for Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows runs DEEP, which means I was the prime target for the FX series of the same name. But admittedly, I initially went into the series with some trepidation—after all, I just wanted more of Viago, Vladislav, and Deacon (RIP, my sweet Petyr), and I wasn’t sure if I was emotionally ready to connect with a new batch of vampires (like I said, my affection towards the WWDITS film is strong). But by episode two, I was madly in love with this new cast of characters, and this new iteration of WWDITS filled that gaping vampire mockumentary hole that had been lingering in my heart since 2015.

The entire cast of WWDITS the series are pitch-perfect, giving us new shenanigans to follow, and I have to say my favorite new phrase for 2019 is “emotional vampire,” because I think we all know a few of those in our own lives. We also got a really fun run of episodes featuring a scene-stealing Doug Jones, and “The Trial” episode was without a doubt an all-timer for me as well, being someone who has loved bloodsuckers for practically her entire life. I seriously cannot wait for WWDITS to return to FX in 2020.

Doctor Sleep: In a year that featured numerous Stephen King adaptations, without a doubt Mike Flanagan crafted the best of the bunch with Doctor Sleep. A cinematic love letter to both its source material and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, somehow Flanagan found a middle ground between the two projects, which was no easy feat, to create an intoxicating and often horrifying experience that cemented Rose the Hat (played by Rebecca Ferguson) as one of the best villains of the year. Also, while I enjoyed Ewan McGregor immensely in it, Kyliegh Curran is the real standout here, and I hope we see more of her in years to come.

Villains: While it may not be horror per se, Villains was probably my favorite indie out of SXSW 2019, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t show it some love here. In a year when Bill Skarsgård upped the ante with his portrayal of Pennywise in IT Chapter Two, I think his best work of 2019 without a doubt is in Villains, and every single moment he shares with Maika Monroe in it just made my heart soar. Villains features some strong supporting performances from both Kyra Sedgwick and Jeffrey Donovan, too, and Monroe is absolutely a delight, and I hope the rest of the world can fall in love with this delightfully demented dark comedy just like I did.

Starfish: Even though I technically saw it at Fantastic Fest 2018, Al White’s Starfish was officially released this year, so that’s why I waited until now to include it in my Favorites list, as it’s been well over a year since it devastated me, and I can still feel its beautiful cinematic melody deep in my soul. A poignant and engrossing rumination on grief set against an apocalyptic backdrop, Starfish is an intimate look at how humanity will save us when everything else in this world fails us, as well as the power of music to boot. Virginia Gardner (who was also a standout in 2018’s Halloween) is incredible here, giving the film the emotional anchor that makes us wholly invested in her journey throughout White’s story. The creature nods to Gareth Edwards’ Monsters were deeply appreciated by this viewer as well.

Knives Out: I loved Knives Out (you can read my glowing review HERE). Everyone loved Knives Out. I’m not sure there’s more to say than that. But I do hope that Rian Johnson’s latest ends up being much more of an awards contender, as the Golden Globes nods certainly give me hope. In any case, Knives Out rules and it would make for a killer double feature with Ready or Not.

Little Monsters: If there’s one movie from 2019 that I have repeatedly recommended to genre fans and mainstream movie watchers alike, it’s Abe Forsythe’s Little Monsters. For anyone who feels like they’re “done” with zombie movies (believe me, I get it!), Little Monsters proves there’s still some fun to be had with shambling hordes of flesh eaters. Little Monsters is also yet another fantastic showcase for Lupita Nyong'o’s talents, but this film actually made me appreciate Josh Gad, which I will tell you is no easy feat. If you’re looking for some feel-good horror with real emotional stakes to it, check out Little Monsters if you haven’t already (it’s currently streaming on Hulu).

Tigers Are Not Afraid: For Tigers Are Not Afraid, filmmaker Issa López gave us one of the most unforgettably gut-wrenching, heartfelt, and poignant genre films of the 2010s, bar none. Merging real-life horrors and fantasy/supernatural elements, Tigers Are Not Afraid feels like a film of our times, sadly, where the value of human life is being taken for granted in so many communities. In Mexico, where children are often left abandoned and must deal with the violence that surrounds them on their own, it’s terrifying trying to just survive, let alone try and thrive to have any sort of happy existence. Considering just how much of the world is a dumpster fire as of late, I’m glad we have films like Tigers Are Not Afraid that delve into that realistic sense of horror, but manage to give us a ray of hope amidst all the ugliness out there.

Escape Room: While it might not be the critical darling that many other genre films were in 2019, Escape Room is the rare movie that I’ve made time to watch repeatedly this year, because that’s how much fun I had with it (and I am SUPER excited that there’s a sequel in the works). The premise itself was enough to hook me—strangers meet to complete a series of escape rooms for a cash prize—but considering I’ve done quite a few escape rooms over the years, this was a wake-up call where I realized, “Hey, I guess you do surrender over a lot of things willingly when you go into one of these experiences, and maybe that’s not so great?” I know Escape Room may not make a lot of folks’ EOY lists, but I knew back in January 2019 that it sure as hell was going to make mine.

Happy Death Day 2U: Look, I know a lot of genre fans took issue with the fact that Happy Death Day 2U did a bit of a bait-and-switch when it infused the sequel’s narrative with some time traveling elements. I get it. To me, though, that’s what I appreciated most about it, as it really opened up Christopher Landon for some great opportunities to tap more into comedic elements to the HDD approach of storytelling, and I absolutely loved it, and will remain gutted for an eternity that we won’t get the final chapter in what was supposed to be a trilogy. Was HDD2U a bit light on the horror? Yup. But the original film wasn’t exactly a bloodbath in itself, and I think that in these films, Jessica Rothe gave us one of the most compelling genre protagonists we’ve seen over the last few years, one with a real emotional arc, and I will fully admit that the scenes with her mom in HDD2U still leave me a blubbering mess. Farewell, Tree Gelbman, you will be missed (but I look forward to whatever Rothe does next).

Horror Noire: I’m a huge sucker for documentaries, and in 2019, I watched quite a few that I absolutely adored (if you’re looking for one that will leave you emotionally hobbled for days, be sure to watch Love, Antosha, which is about Anton Yelchin), and Horror Noire is right up amongst the best. An essential, enlightening, and entertaining exploration of black horror, Horror Noire feels like something every single genre fan should take the time to watch (and if you haven’t, it’s currently streaming on Shudder). The interviewees were informative and engaging, and I loved how director Xavier Burgin didn’t shy away from some of the more complicated aspects of black representation in cinema, either. You can read my full review HERE, but suffice to say, Horror Noire feels like a breath of fresh air in an era when we seem to get countless genre-related documentaries that only scratch the surface of their subjects.

Parasite: I’ve been a fan of Bong Joon Ho’s ever since I first rented The Host on a whim (one of the best whims I ever succumbed to, honestly), and while I love his entire catalog of output, without a doubt Parasite is easily his greatest masterpiece to date, and my favorite film of 2019 as a whole. It’s not exactly horror, but it is genre-adjacent enough for me to include here, because every single frame of Parasite has lingered with me over the last few months, and the more I think about it, the more I love it. I know it didn’t have a very wide theatrical release last year, but Parasite hits digital later this month, and it is something that I would unequivocally implore you to make time for. It’s an absolute astounding effort from one of the most thought-provoking filmmakers working today.

Baba Yaga in Hellboy (2019): Was the new Hellboy a hot mess? Absolutely. Did we necessarily need a Hellboy reboot to begin with? Probably not. But I will say that I did end up having a lot of fun with the parts of Hellboy (2019) that did work, and that included the Baba Yaga sequences, which were some of the most haunting visuals I’ve seen this side of the Silent Hill film. Played by “Twisty” Troy James, this iteration of the Baba Yaga was absolutely breathtaking and terrifying all at once. Sure, Hellboy (2019) had a lot of issues, but the Baba Yaga was not one of them.

AHS: 1984: Admittedly, I’ve never found time to watch any of the previous American Horror Story seasons, because I can barely keep up with the movies I need to watch for this gig. But when I heard that this season was going to be a slasher story set in the year 1984, I sure as hell wasn’t going to miss out. And yeah, AHS: 1984 was messy as all hell story-wise, and the supernatural elements were a bit befuddling at first (thankfully, they got a bit more ironed out in later episodes), but as a whole, I really had a lot of fun with AHS: 1984 and how it blurred the lines a bit between reality and fantasy with the whole Richard Ramirez thing, too.

Of course, my girl Emma Roberts was a delight, and Billie Lourd SLAYED me, but I must say that the real standout for me was John Carroll Lynch’s performance as Mr. Jingles, which gave the otherwise shallow (shallow in a good way, mind you—this IS a 1980s slasher story that we’re talking about here) series the emotional weight it really needed to make it more than just yet another slice & dice affair.

Daniel Isn’t Real: I first saw Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Daniel Isn’t Real back at SXSW in March 2019, and man, has that movie stuck with me over the last nine months, where I think it about it at least once a week. An extraordinarily powerful examination of mental illness and toxic masculinity, and the internal struggles some will face in dismantling the demons that threaten to tear us down, Daniel Isn’t Real shows us that often enough, the greatest battles we’ll ever face are the ones within. And while Halloween (2018)’s Miles Robbins makes for a compelling protagonist here, its Patrick Schwarzenegger’s performance that is the real revelation as the enigmatic and intoxicating Daniel, who pushes Robbins’ character to the brink and then beyond.

The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot: I have been ride or die for Sam Elliott ever since my mom became obsessed with Mask when I was little, and I realized that Mr. Mustache Rides was pretty much one of the coolest actors ever to grace the silver screen. And for as many eternally badass and endlessly charismatic characters that Elliott has given life to, what he does in The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot is on an entirely new level. A moving and thoughtful contemplation about our place in this world, TMWKHATTB could have easily given us a schlock fest with such an attention-grabbing title, but instead goes for something more character-driven, and I think it turned out wonderfully. And for as great as Elliott is here, I loved Larry Miller’s supporting performance in this, proving he’s great at playing more than just antagonizing characters.

Girl on the Third Floor: Travis Stevens has produced some of the best indie genre films over the last decade, so I had an inkling that whenever he decided to step into the role of director, it would end up being a pretty badass endeavor. And I don’t like to pat myself on the back, but I was absolutely right because Girl on the Third Floor was a wickedly twisted romp about the horrors of home ownership as well as why it’s never (and I mean, NEVER) a good idea to step out on your significant other. Not all professional wrestlers have been able to make the leap to the world of movies (*cough* Ronda Rousey *cough*), but Phil Brooks—aka CM Punk—more than holds his own here, and despite the fact that his character is a huge jerk, it’s hard not to still root for him even though he makes so many bad decisions. Featuring some super gnarly effects, Girl on the Third Floor is an impressive directorial debut from Stevens, and I hope we get more like this from him in the future.

Honorable Mentions:

Greta 

Satanic Panic

Annabelle Comes Home

Climax

The Standoff at Sparrow Creek

Bliss

MEMORY – The Origins of Alien 

Lords of Chaos 

Smoke & Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini 

The Prodigy 

Them That Follow

Ma

Dennis Quaid in The Intruder

The Perfection

I Trapped the Devil

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Want to know what other members of the Daily Dead team enjoyed in 2019? Visit our online hub to catch up on all of our Favorites of 2019 lists!

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    After falling in love with the horror genre at a very early age, Heather Wixson has spent the last decade carving out a name for herself in the genre world as a both a journalist and as a proponent of independent horror cinema. Wixson is currently the Managing Editor for DailyDead.com, and was previously a featured writer at DreadCentral.com and TerrorTube.com where her online career began; she’s also been a contributor at FEARnet as well as a panelist for several of their online programs.

    Wixson recently finished her first book, Monster Squad: Celebrating the Artists Behind Cinema's Most Memorable Creatures, and is currently working on her second upcoming book project on special effects artists as well.

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